After sharing a few glimpses of my journey on how I naturally helped clear my child’s eczema on Instagram, I had an overwhelming amount of parents reach out wanting to know more. And not just for their children – but for themselves, too!
Unfortunately, eczema is an itchy and uncomfortable reality that many parents are forced to navigate with their children. And in some cases, the rash may persist into adulthood.
Before we get into the game plan, I just want to tell you I’m so sorry and I completely understand. I was humbled and heartbroken as a first time mom holding my sweet baby boy who was covered in the puffy, red rash after a heavy dose of antibiotics in the NICU. I’ve had to navigate eczema to some degree or another with each of my subsequent sons, too.
But speaking from personal experience, I also want you to know there’s hope! Whether you’re fighting for your baby or fighting for yourself, you can make powerful decisions that have a huge impact on skin health, including eczema. I’m going to equip you with a plan so you can be empowered to make those decisions for the ones you love.
The Problem of Eczema
Research leads us to believe that eczema may be an expression of a microbiome problem – it starts in the gut. And leaky gut can lead to leaky skin.
But first, let’s first back it up to the beginning. Studies confirm that, unlike previously believed, the womb is not sterile. The human microbiome is composed of trillions of different bacteria, and we now know that many live in the uterus and vaginal tract as well as the amniotic fluid and meconium during pregnancy. In fact, the entire ecosystem of the vaginal track changes during pregnancy.
Our human microbiome literally begins developing in utero and continues to change all the way through delivery, as we introduce foods and throughout the rest of our lives according to what we eat, the lifestyle decisions we make, our environment, etc. The microbiome is responsible, among other things, for protecting the body from pathogenic invasion via the digestive tract and for modulating the immune system. The human GI tract is covered by a single layer of these epithelial cells held together by tight junction proteins. That means the microbiome is the 1-layer-thick barrier between undigested food, toxins, pathogens…and the rest of your body! And when that 1-layer-thick protective microbiome becomes damaged, undeveloped or leaky? It manifests through bodily symptoms, including eczema.
A baby’s gut is considered “leaky” until about one year of age because the microbiome is still developing. We know the development begins in utero, but it continues according to the probiotics they receive in the birth canal via mom during vaginal births, colostrum from the first few days of feeding, and then breastmilk. Beyond breastmilk, once a baby is eating solid foods containing fiber, his microbiome will feed off this soluble fiber and continue to grow, diversify and strengthen. This “leaky” nature of a baby’s gut makes them very sensitive to allergens, toxins and pharmaceuticals. It makes sense, right? Their microbiome, or first line of defense from the outside world, isn’t fully protective yet.
But leaky gut isn’t just a baby problem! As adults, everyone has a semi-permeable gut, but when we have “leaky” gut we have increased intestinal permeability. This allows for larger molecules (including undigested food and other potentially toxic molecules) to sneak through the mucous lining of our intestines into the bloodstream. The body then recognizes these “foreign invaders” and triggers an immune response – inflammation, joint pain, eczema and more!
Eczema is literally an inflammatory response. It is the skin’s expression of the immune system reacting to allergens or irritants. There is strong evidence that patients with atopic dermatitis, a common type of eczema in children, have “a disturbed microbial composition and lack microbial diversity in their skin and gut compared to controls.” Though there is a clear link between eczema and the microbiome, I must note that scientists are still unsure if the sub-optimal microbiome health is an outcome of eczema or the cause of barrier dysfunction and inflammation. We are at the forefront of much discovery around the skin-gut axis, which is incredibly exciting and provides hope for better treatment of gut-skin related problems such as eczema in the future!
While eczema may be caused by leaky gut, the condition is literally leaky skin. This simply means that for those with eczema, there is no barrier between the skin and the outside world. If you’ve ever seen irritated, inflamed eczema with small lesions, the lack of barrier is apparent. Now that you know what eczema is and how it happens, let’s get into what we can do about it! My three-part plan is easy to follow, manageable to implement and proven to help heal.
Step 1: Bring Down Immediate Inflammation
Just because eczema is a gut problem that can’t be fully remediated overnight, it doesn’t mean there aren’t measures we can take to help in the near term. Here are your best bets for immediate symptom relief and preparation for deeper healing:
1. Create an artificial barrier for the skin. Eczema’s “leaky skin” nature means the skin is no longer an intact barrier to keep the outside world…outside! So the first order of business is to lather the skin in something that creates an artificial barrier, or essentially does the job of the skin while healing is taking place. Vani Cream is the cream with which I’ve had most success for my family in creating this artificial barrier. Originally I wanted to use a food grade product, but there is a question that putting a coconut or almond oil based product may actually increase chances for allergens to that food.
Whether for an adult or child, I’d lather Vani Cream over any patches of eczema. This thick, affordable cream usually helps with itchiness while acting as a protective barrier to environmental irritants.
2. Address any immediate flares or allergy-like symptoms that may need powerful and fast-acting support. In adults or children who are old enough if a reaction or flare results in full-blown sneezing, itchiness, runny nose, hives, etc, I opt for Genexa Allergy Care (use code BEWELL20). This is not a maintenance medicine, but more so something we use only if a flare is bad and results in immediate swelling and symptoms like full body hives and extreme discomfort.
Immediate flares may happen if eczema patches come into contact with irritants. For example, my son Bash’s eczema can flare if he comes into contact with a doge. In the case that he would, I would clean the skin, lather Vani cream and watch for any of the acute symptoms listed above. If none of the acute symptoms surface (inflammation, hives, etc.), I simply continue to watch. If they do, then I may use Genexa Allergy Care in that case.
3. Utilize homeopathy for gentle symptom relief without the side effects of medication. When eczema patches are particularly irritated and inflamed, I opt for a gentler homeopathic approach to symptom reduction. My go-to source is Boiron AllergyCalm, with both child and adult formulations.
4. Consider further testing to discover irritants which may need to be removed during the healing process. After the implementation of this protocol, both Taschen and Julian had clear skin within two weeks. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Sebastian. It took a little deeper dive to discover irritants beyond the common food allergens.
I scheduled a back prick allergy test for Bash and discovered “dogs” were a serious flare-inducing allergen that exacerbated his eczema. After eight weeks of avoiding homes with dogs (no dander or saliva) Bash’s immune system calmed enough to heal. Today, Bash can be in homes with dogs, pet them and even get kisses on his skin as long as their saliva doesnt come in contact with his bodily fluid like eyes or mouth. If you or your child are in a similar situation in that you’ve removed common allergens and processed foods but are still unfortunately seeing strong eczema flares, you may want to consider working with an allergist and undergoing further allergy testing.
5. Bathe + wash wisely. Water and soap can be irritating on skin that is already red and raw. For babies and young children, I suggest dropping bathing down to twice a week or three times at the most. Go with lukewarm water (not hot!) and only use a gentle, non-toxic soap in areas where there are sweat glands, fluids or private parts. On other days, you may gently wipe baby down with a warm cotton washcloth. For adults, I stress using a non-toxic and gentle soap with lukewarm water. Dry thoroughly, as moisture (especially in “cracks” like behind the knees, elbows, etc.) can be irritating.
Step 2: Fix the Gut
I started this gut-healing protocol with my little man, Bash, and we had such great success that I used it again with my younger two sons as well as clients and their families! This lineup of lifestyle tweaks and core supplements is as applicable to adults with eczema as it is to children.
1. Consider an elimination diet for a period of time – including breastfeeding mamas! It’s a sacrifice I know personally, but the benefits of pulling common allergens out of the diet while clearing eczema can be profound. I suggest cutting gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts out of your diet in order for the gut to heal. I know that seems like a lot, but it’s not forever!
For breastfeeding mamas, remember that your baby eats what you eat. So if your baby is suffering from eczema and you’re currently breastfeeding, I would cut the allergens listed above for a few weeks until it improves.
And improvement will happen faster when you are eating what heals the gut whole foods that contain, protein, fat, fiber and antooxidants! (aka: the Fab 4) Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat load you plate with complete proteins like grassfed beef, fiber rich fats like avocado and green salads with swette potato croutons and remember the beauty of an elimination diet is it allows you to discover what foods might be irritants. And you can cut those foods out until the gut is fully developed and healed. To this day, I notice that Taschen’s eczema can flare when he has dairy because of our work using an elimination diet.
I suggest working with an allergist to reintroduce foods (either for yourself or as a breastfeeding mother for your child) that are known to be triggering for eczema flares.
2. Eat for gut health. Eat to… Heal the gut! Diversify friendly bacteria! Strengthen the microbiome! I cannot overemphasize the power of your plate. When eating to heal the gut and clear eczema, you want to start with eliminating the big trigger foods as outlined above. But I don’t want to stop there. I’m all about flipping fear-mongering diet culture on its head and instead asking, What can I add?
When healing eczema and inflammation (but really, always!), I want you to eat a real, whole foods diet. As much as possible, stay away from processed foods, which contain added gums, fillers, flavorings, colors, preservatives, etc. that ultimately chip away at gut health. Focus on eating a wide variety of antioxidant-rich, polyphenol-containing, anti-inflammatory foods. Think of foods like organic berries, extra virgin olive oil, wild caught salmon, dark and leafy greens, and deeply colored fruits and veggies.
Make sure you’re hitting optimal protein intake so the epithelial lining of your gut has the building blocks to repair itself. The heart behind my Be Well Protein Powder was to create a minimal-ingredient, minimally-processed powder to make protein consumption easy and convenient. The unflavored varieties are appropriate for even babies who’ve just begun solid. The 3-ingredient chocolate and vanilla flavors are appropriate for anyone over 18 months!
Other sources of gut-healing protein include bone broth and high-quality animal meats. My favorites are FOND bone broth (use code BEWELLBYKELLY), Pasturebird for poultry (use code BEWELLBYKELLY) and Force of Nature ancestral blends (use code KELLY10).
Finally, prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods are essential for the feeding and flourishing of a variety of beneficial bacteria in the microbiome. Probiotic rich foods include sauerkraut, clean non-dairy yogurts, kimchi, coconut kefir, etc. For prebiotic and fiber-heavy foods (which I often purchase economically from NOW foods - use code KELLY), go with acacia fiber, chia seeds, flaxseeds or psyllium husk. Include as many varieties as possible of non-starchy vegetables and alliums, like garlic and onions.
Fiber is essential for detox pathways, and some children may be consuming very limited fiber due to a "picky" diet. In my podcast episode with Dr. Pejman Katiraei – A Holistic Approach to Pediatrics – he recommends “prioritizing finding some kind of vegetable they will eat and then slowly increasing variety.”
3. Supplement for success. Supplementation is an important piece in the eczema healing journey. The core supplements I suggest for anyone fighting eczema include: Vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics and Omega-3s.
Vitamin D is linked to skin health and has a steroidal behavior in the body. Omega 3s are powerful and effective at decreasing inflammation. Magnesium helps ensure Vitamin D absorption and use. Probiotics are important for microbiome health and diversification.
These supplements are appropriate for adults and children alike, and it’s important for breastfeeding mothers to supplement, particularly if baby is not yet eating solids. Additionally, consider getting sun in the early morning and late afternoon hours to increase Vitamin D production.
- My probiotic recommendation for children is Just Thrive (use code BEWELLBYKELLY). I reached out to sign up as an affiliate after personal and clinical success. For breastfeeding babies, simply empty a capsule into a bottle with an ounce or two of breast milk daily.
- For adults, I suggest probiotics first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with a big glass of water. Seed DS-01 probiotic is my adult probiotic of choice. For 20% off your first month of Seed, use the code BEWELLBYKELLY. If I am traveling, pregnant or breastfeeding, ingesting more sugar, or under stress, I often add Just Thrive to my evening routine or take it around mealtime.
- My Clean Supplement Guide (which you can currently purchase at a steal!), gives all sorts of options and information regarding supplementation and brands I trust.
Step 3: Limit Environmental Toxins
There are countless things in our environment that can cause skin to become irritated. Some examples include exposure to air pollutants, chemicals, fabrics, fragrances and a wide variety of personal products. Even changes in heat or humidity can lead to irritation. We’re often not even aware of the things we’re constantly using in and around our home that might aggravate, intensify or inflame eczema.
I’m excited to share I’m currently working on a BRAND NEW ‘Guide to Living a Non-toxic Life’ which will literally walk you through detoxing your environment and life! So stay tuned for my detailed approach on limiting toxins in a non-stressful way. In the meantime, for my clients with eczema, cleaning up the environment is something I have them do as fast as possible. Let’s see how:
1. Removing all fragrance from personal care – yours and your child/baby’s (if applicable). Even if only your child or baby is struggling with eczema, you need to make the non-toxic personal care shift as well. Why? If you’re holding baby, then the chemicals/fragrances from your products are most certainly rubbing onto your baby as well. I’m a huge supporter, user and believer in HUME fragrance free deodorant (use code KELLYPODCAST). If you’re looking to make a non-toxic shift, I’d start there. This also means no perfumes, scented lotions, body washes, soaps or more. Go unscented with everything and use the EWG Skin Deep Database as a resource to find approved products.
2. Get rid of all of toxic home cleaning products. Switch to non-toxic cleaning and laundry brands. I love Branch Basics for non-toxic cleaning and Molly’s Suds for a non-toxic, unscented, hypoallergenic laundry option. EWG offers another fantastic resource/guide for cleaning products.
3. Wear breathable cotton material. Especially if you or your child has eczema around the ankles, behind the knees or in the folds of the arms, consider long pants and long sleeve shirts as an added protective barrier against environmental irritants. Make sure the fabric is light and soft (ideally an organic cotton). I would prioritize organic cotton pajamas and organic cotton sheets, as the body is in contact with these fabrics for an extended period of time. We love 1212 Clothing, which is super thin, soft and breathable.
4. If you have synthetic rugs, consider purchasing a tummy time blanket that’s 100% cotton or lightweight linen. This ensures your baby will not be rubbing up against irritating synthetic fibers and chemicals. I would suggest the same for blankets, swaddles, crib/bed sheets, pillow covers, etc.
5. Dust, vacuum and mop more regularly. Avoid using Swiffers or chemically-based products. Instead, opt for wet dusting (simply use a tiny bit of water and a microfiber cloth). Mop with Branch Basics or vinegar and water. Vacuum often with a HEPA filter vacuum.
6. Open your windows daily for fresh air. EPA studies show indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. And sometimes up to a hundred times higher! And sometimes up to a hundred times higher! If your budget allows, consider a high quality air filter to reduce the amount of allergens circulating in your indoor air.
7. Take shoes off inside. This is an easy way to reduce the amount of chemicals, pesticides, dirt, dust, mold, pollen, etc. that are being tracked into and throughout your home.
Prevention, Hindsight and always making the Empowered Move
- If you are currently pregnant and looking to take proactive measures to decrease the likelihood of your child having eczema, kudos to you! Here are a few things to consider. Eat a gut-loving diet, as outlined above. Nothing takes the place of real, nourishing food for you and your baby – even in the womb! Additionally, prioritize planning for a vaginal birth and breastfeeding.
- Despite eating clean, taking probiotics, and giving Bash his best shot during my own pregnancy, a traumatic birth, antibiotics and NICU stay wiped out that microbiome I had worked so hard to pass to him. Super tough swallow, but a good lesson in that while you can’t control everything, you can always make your next best move. If your baby ends up battling eczema like mine did, you are already empowered with the protocol outlined above. Also, if you’ve already had a C-section or formula fed your child who is now struggling with eczema, no shame or guilt. Again, just make your next best decision and know there’s so much hope! I’m holding my hand high as a girl who was born via C-section and raised on formula. Although my start wasn’t ideal for gut health, I’ve grown a healthy, diverse and robust microbiome via lifestyle and nutrition. You and your child can, too!
- I want to share with you a resource I’ll be using with Julian to lower our chances at food allergies and the eczema that so often coincides. It’s called Ready. Set. Food! It allows you to introduce microdoses of the most common allergens to your baby in order to inform his immune system that these are not invaders prior to food introductions at six months.
- If you need guidance on where to start with nutrition for either you or your baby, I have courses that show you how to eat body-loving foods that nourish both skin and gut:
- Be Well Podcast: Start a Family Food Revolution with Dr. Ana-Maria Temple
- Be Well Podcast: A Holistic Approach to Pediatrics with Dr. Pejman Katiraei
Eczema can be every bit as heartbreaking and humbling for mama as it can be itchy and uncomfortable for baby. But armed with my proven protocol above, I’m excited for you to start making choices and changes that will clear skin and offer relief. I’m cheering you on along the journey I had to take myself. And I’m grateful to offer my experience to give you hope for yours.